A bomb exploded yesterday in a market packed with Christmas shoppers, killing at least 15 people, injuring 58 and shattering a monthslong lull in attacks in the volatile southern...

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MANILA, Philippines — bomb exploded yesterday in a market packed with Christmas shoppers, killing at least 15 people, injuring 58 and shattering a monthslong lull in attacks in the volatile southern Philippines, where Muslim and communist rebels are active.

The homemade bomb, concealed in a box, went off in the meat section of the market in General Santos, about 620 miles south of Manila. Officials immediately bolstered security in the predominantly Christian port city of 500,000 people, fearing more attacks.

Authorities said today that they have identified several suspects but made no arrests as they probe a possible connection to a business feud.

National police chief Edgar Aglipay said investigators were looking into a dispute between two groups wrangling over a stall in the market, but added: “This is something we still have to prove. We are not discounting that other groups may have done this.”

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Both Muslim and communist rebels operate in General Santos, but Army Col. Medardo Geslani said earlier that investigators have so far found “no direct link” to the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group, the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, the communist New People’s Army or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Philippines’ main Muslim separatist group.

No one immediately claimed responsibility.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said there was no way to justify “this heinous deed.”

“The market was packed with people because there were Christmas flea-market stalls there, and the explosion was powerful,” police investigator Capt. Maximo Sebastian said in a telephone interview.

Soldiers and police cordoned off the area, fearing more explosives might have been planted, said army Col. Medardo Geslani, who heads a regional anti-terrorism force. Security forces would boost their presence in public places, intensify patrols and set up checkpoints, he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the Philippine Red Cross, criticized the military and police for failing to prevent the attack despite what he said was intelligence indicating a planned terrorist strike in the city.

“I’m getting reports from some of our people there that they knew there was a plan to pull this off but still it happened,” Gordon told ABS-CBN television. “They need to bolster their spying and their surveillance of places that should be under guard.”

The sprawling archipelago has suffered a rash of bloody attacks and mass kidnappings in recent years that largely have been blamed on Muslim extremists. Communist rebels have attacked security forces, local officials and infrastructure such as electricity and mobile-phone transmission towers.

The Philippines has been a key ally in the U.S. war on terrorism, with Washington providing extensive counterterrorism training and gear for the poorly equipped military.

The city had been largely tranquil since a bomb killed 14 people in a shopping mall in 2002. Authorities blamed the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf and a larger separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Some of those arrested in that attack are being tried on multiple murder charges.